On Oct. 30, Women’s ENews ran an excerpt from author Jaclyn Friedman, who explains that in this society, racialized women are expected to be always sexually available. The image of the virgin is always an ethereal white girl. Black girls are stereotyped as “wild and animalistic.”
The system of slavery, which allowed white men to rape Black female slaves with impunity, and the system of Jim Crow segregation, which relied on a culture of ritual sexual violence against Black women, each relied on this stereotype to rationalize a lot of criminal behavior.
According to Danielle L. McGuire, author of “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power,” the Jim Crow South promulgated the racist notion that it was not really possible for a white man to “rape” a Black woman since Black women were so promiscuous that rape became a meaningless concept.
McGuire’s text documents the ways and incredible numbers in which Black teens and adult women in the Jim Crow South were snatched off the street as they walked to the store, dragged out of their homes by pickup truckloads of white men with shotguns, “hired” to babysit and then sexually violated; hired as domestics and expected to service the man of the house. Yet not one white man was convicted of rape for most of this historical period because it was treated as justifiable.
All Black women were seen in white society as Jezebels, sluts, and whores. Thus, the strategy of “reclaiming” the word “slut” as a means to reclaiming a free sexuality for Black women is just not a viable strategy for a truly effective and long-lived multinational and working-class movement against sexual violence.
It is not an abstract problem that can be argued to a new conclusion but a concrete and historically contingent reality that is not going to disappear.
Much of this horror was actually lived by the mothers and grandmothers of contemporary Black women and is part of their living memory. The example set by the meetings between NYC SlutWalk organizers and Black Women’s Blueprint could not, therefore, be more important for the future of a militant women’s movement.
Everyone who aspires to play a part in the building a new feminist movement should read “At the Dark End of the Street.” The author has documented the long history of Black women’s activism, the centrality of the struggle against the rape of Black women in the life of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks, and the centrality of the organization that she and other Black women built out of their own struggles against sexual violence—the Montgomery Improvement Association—to the later bus boycott and other fights.
With this knowledge and the collaboration of those who remain tied personally to the historic use of rape as a means of social control, a new independent women’s movement will be unstoppable.
> The article above was written by Christine Marie, and first appeared in the November 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.